shall not be decided by the captor but be carried before a legal tribunal where a regular trial may be had, and where the captor himself is liable for damages for an abuse of his power. Can it be reasonable then or just that a belligerent commander who is thus restricted and thus responsible in a case of mere property of trivial amount should be permitted without recurring to any tribunal whatever to examine the crew of a neutral vessel, to decide the important question of their respective allegiances and to carry that decision into execution by forcing every individual he may choose into a service abhorrent to his feelings, cutting him off from his most tender connections, exposing his mind and his person to the most humiliating discipline and his life itself to the greatest danger? Reason, justice and humanity unite in protesting against so extravagant a proceeding.
If I decide this case in favor of my own Government I must disavow its most cherished principles and reverse and forever abandon its essential policy. The country cannot afford the sacrifice. If I maintain those principles and adhere to that policy I must surrender the case itself. It will be seen therefore that this Government could deny the justice of the claim presented to us in this respect upon its merits. We are asked to do to the British nation just what we have always insisted all nations ought to do to us.
The claim of the British Government is not made in a discourteous manner. This Government since its first organization has never used more guarded language in a similar case.
In coming to my conclusion I have not forgotten that if the safety of this Union required the detention of the captured persons it would be the right and duty of this Governmetn to detain them. But the effectual check and waning proportions of the existing insurrection as well as the comparative unimportance of the capture persons themselfves when dispassionately weighed h from resorting to that defense.
Nor am I unaware that American citizens are not in any case to be unnecessarily surrendered for any purpose into the keeping of a foreign State. Only the captured persons, however, or others who are interested in them could justly raise a question on that ground.
Nor have I tempted at all by suggestion that cases might be found in history where Great Britain refused to yield to other nations and even to ourselves claims like that which is now before us. Those cases occurred when Great Britain as well as the United States was the home of generations which all their peculiar interests and passions have passed away. She could in no other way so effectually disavow any such injury as we think she does by assuming now as her own the ground upon which we then stood. It would tell little for our own claims to the character of a just and magnanimous people if we should so far consest to be guilded by the law of retaliation as to lift up buried injuries from their graves against what national consistency and the national consiciense compel us to regard as a claim intrinsically right.
Putting behind me all suggestion of this kind I prefer to express my satisfaction that by the adjustment of the present case upon principles confessedly American and yet as I trust mutually satisfactory to both of the nations concerned a question is finally and rightly settled between them which heretofore exhausting not only all forms of peaceful discussion but also the aritrament of war itself for more than half a century alienated the two countries from each other and perplexed with fears and apprehensions all other nations.
The four persons in question are now held in militay custody at Fort Warren, in the State of Massachusetts. The will be cheerfully liberated.
Your lordship will please indicate a time and place for receiving them.
I avail myself of this occasion to offer to your lordship a renewed assurance of my very night consideration.
WILLIAM H. SEWARD.